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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has gained increased attention in the corporate world in recent years, as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan and reenter the workplace. But it's not just members of the armed forces that may experience PTSD. Anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event can develop PTSD. Indeed, the disorder is shockingly common: nearly one in 10 women, and up to 8 percent of the population generally, experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
For most companies, the question isn't whether they'll have to address PTSD in the workplace, it's when.
PTSD and the ADA
PTSD can result in symptoms such as flashbacks, outbursts, emotional numbness, and difficulty sleeping, all of which can have an impact at work. And though there have been impressive advancements in treatment, PTSD remains for many, "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," to quote the Americans with Disability Act. As such, PTSD is covered by the ADA, as the EEOC confirmed in a 2008 opinion letter.
Under the ADA, businesses with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate on the basis of disabilities, including PTSD, in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and more. Similarly, those businesses must provide reasonable accommodations for those employees.
For many companies, the most challenging part of dealing with employees experiencing PTSD can be finding the appropriate accommodation, given the wide variety of symptoms that those with PTSD may experience. The Job Accommodation Network provides dozens of potential accommodations, organized by symptom, and recommends using the following questions to guide any accommodation plan:
1. What limitations is the employee with PTSD experiencing?
2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee's job performance?
3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
5. Has the employee with PTSD been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee with PTSD to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding PTSD?
Of course, like with many disabilities, crafting an appropriate accommodation is not a simple task, but it is one required by the law. The key to success is often making sure that the accommodations made are appropriate for the employee with PTSD and that supervisors are on board and willing to work effectively towards the company's goals.